All That’s Jazz, by Sammy Stein (2017): Books

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Having long offered informed reviews, essays and interviews for All About Jazz, Jazz in Europe and — since 2013 — here at Something Else!, a whole book on the topic of jazz seems a step all too logical for jazz journalist Sammy Stein. All That’s Jazz (Tomahawk Press), is indeed a foray into an often-covered idiom but with a refreshing angle and scope.

You see, this isn’t a book about the history of jazz, although Stein gives readers a digest takes them jazz’s origins and subsequent development in order to provide context to the chapters that follow. Otherwise, Stein diverges from the scholastic approach to undergo a quest to understand how jazz functions, “discussing the ins and outs” of the art form, and picking the brains of jazz insiders — musicians, venue managers, promoters, label executives, etc. — for what jazz means to them and insight into how the business works. It’s a broader look at the entire jazz ecosystem, not just the musicians and the listeners: Stein also examines the record labels, the PR folks, the journalists, the club owners, the jazz colleges, social media, and how they all fit together to make up the entire jazz universe and sustain this beloved art form.

Sammy Stein’s mission is driven by a curiosity about many aspects of jazz that’s not easily understood by those of us on the ‘outside,’ like the seeming disconnect between the intense passion for the idiom by virtually all its practitioners and the paltry financial payoff for that passion. Or more fundamentally, what exactly is jazz music, a topic she tackles in Chapter One. But instead of researching and postulating theories from afar, Stein goes straight to the sources to find answers. As a Londoner, Stein gives attention to Euro-jazz than most jazz-centric books but overall takes a global view of a phenomenon that’s long been global in reach and continues to create new legions of fans in places such as Eastern Europe and China.

In preparing this book, Sammy Stein has spoken to several jazz musicians ranging from Daniel Bennett to Greg Osby to Mats Gustafsson and drawing from prior conversations with others like Peter Brotzmann to get uniquely jazz musician perspectives on basic but acute questions. Like, for instance, a chapter devoted to the whole issue of jazz labels, where we learn that most cats hate ’em and really have no use for ’em (but retailers do, in order to provide an easy way to provide some contextualization).

She probes her subjects for what it’s really like to be a jazz musician, and gets their own perspective on their own music, which really doesn’t get out to the listening public much especially since liner notes rarely accompany new releases anymore. What draws so many jazz musicians to ply their trade in a profession with such dim prospects for financial reward? Stein gets answers straight from the source.

In just 200 pages, All That’s Jazz is stuffed full of jazz insight from people on the inside. But it’s Sammy Stein’s own insight that neatly sums up what makes jazz worth all the effort put into it so many people for so many years: “With jazz it is not necessary to be switched on, alert, intellectually analytical. Just allow the music, the player, speak to you. That is the art of jazz listening.”


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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